Broken Media

brokenPeter Kann, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and chairman of Dow Jones, had a wonderful piece in The Wall Street Journal that I encourage you to read. Noting that CNN’s pre-election programming had names like “Broken Borders,” “Broken Government,” “Broken Politics,” he says the media, too, are in need of some mending.

Because it’s that special time of year when people make lists, he lists 10 current trends in media that ought to disturb us.

Each of the trends is general to all media, but I think more than a few should be heeded by those who cover religion, such as the problems and pitfalls inherent in pack journalism and the exaggerated tendency toward pessimism. Here are a few others:

The issue of conflict and context. On most issues most Americans are not on polar extremes. On abortion, for example, most seek a sensible center. Where is that center reflected in media coverage that mainly portrays rabid feminists or irate pro-life activists? Balance is not achieved by the talk show format of two extremists yelling at each other. And how many of us recognize our own communities from their depiction on local TV news shows — a nonstop montage of mayhem, murder, rape, arson, child molestation and more?

Social orthodoxy, or political correctness. These are reflected in a media whose job is not to parrot prevailing fashions, but to question, probe and thereby challenge them. Businessmen are not, by definition, greedy, and environmentalists, by definition, saintly. Third World poverty is not, by definition, a result of overpopulation as opposed to inane economic policies. And so on.

Vitally important tangent here. I believe that men are more likely to list and rank things than women are. I have no scientific evidence to support this claim save many discussions with men about, say, their “Seven Top Non-Alcoholic Beverages,” “Every Girl I Ever Kissed, 1987-96,” “Top 10 Christmas Films That Are Not Actually About Christmas” and “Top Five Reasons Ladainian Tomlinson is not as good as Walter Payton.”

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The faith story that won’t go away

tony dungyI’m back in the great Hoosier state for the weekend, celebrating Christmas. I was given the opportunity to play in my high school’s alumni basketball game this evening and generally have had an opportunity to kick back and enjoy time with the family.

I wanted to offer a quick note about a Washington Post column on the one-year anniversary of the death of Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy’s son. Michael Wilbon is one of the most talented sports columnists in the country and he typically is right on the mark with his material.

I say this because his piece on Dungy was vague on matters of faith. Normally this would not be a big deal in a piece on an NFL coach, but remember how the stories on the death of James Dungy were saturated with religion? The column does not explicitly ignore the faith angle, but the change in coverage got me thinking:

[Peyton] Manning smiled at the thought of talking to his coach as he does his stretching, which apparently happens often. Dungy almost always leads those conversations. Last week, Dungy talked about the death of Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt, the force behind the creation of the AFL and its merger with the NFL. Manning thought about the many Saturdays over recent seasons when Dungy inquires about players’ pregnant wives and ill parents or children in school assemblies. “He’s always there for us,” Manning said.

“I think of the Saturdays when he’s checking up on all of our families, asking us if we need something or if he can help with something.

“But who can relate to what Tony and his family are going through? We all feel for them and want to be there for them. But the only people, really, who can relate to this are people who have been through something similar. . . . I know this. He’s got such a wonderful, tight-knit family, and his faith is so strong. . . . I know I just want to be there for him if I can.”

Perhaps it did not need to be explicit the way it was a year ago. The news a year ago was different. As you can see from Manning’s quotes, the faith aspect of Dungy’s life shines throughout the piece. It’s not in the lede, or featured throughout as it was a year ago, but it’s there, as you can see in Wilbon’s words:

Winning may get them through this week leading up to Christmas, but it’s going to be much more difficult than that for Tony and Lauren Dungy and their five children. It’s going to take the same faith they relied upon last year and hugs from friends, players and acquaintances. Probably, it’s at a time like this when a coach most appreciates his team and when his players know that, in this case, being there is the most important — and only — thing they can do.

The faith aspect is subtle and reflective. You can’t ignore it. And perhaps that’s the way it should be?

Since I won’t be posting again until at least Monday, Merry Christmas, everyone.

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When did the Anglicans “erupt”?

volc1Let’s flash back for a moment to the eruption of Anglican warfare in Northern Virginia that drew so much press coverage last weekend.

You may recall that I, well, blew up a bit over a wording in one of the crucial Associated Press stories, one written by religion-beat specialist Rachel Zoll.

That report is kind of hard to find online right now, since many websites took it down in favor of an updated report, one that does not include what I thought was an error that needed to be corrected. Still, here is the passage I questioned:

The ballots are part of a crisis over the Bible and sexuality that is battering The Episcopal Church and threatening its role as the U.S. wing of the global Anglican Communion.

The feud erupted in 2003 when Episcopalians consecrated the first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. Supporters argued that the biblical ban on gay sex does not apply to monogamous same-gender couples. However, most overseas Anglicans disagree and have been pressuring the American church to follow traditional Christian teaching.

I thought it was wrong to say that “this feud” erupted in 2003, when the actual issues behind the global warfare in Anglicanism have been haunting the communion since the 1980s and exploded into open combat in the late 1990s. My criticism brought this comment from the Associated Press:

I read your Anglican Wars post, and just want to note that the labeling of a sentence of our story as “way, way way off base” seems to be based on a misinterpretation. According to Mirriam-Webster, “erupt” does not mean “to begin,” but rather “to force out or release suddenly and often violently something (as lava or steam) that is pent up to burst forth.” AP religion reporters and editors well know that this latest debate over Scriptural authority dates back decades. But it’s no stretch to say that 2003 was a major turning point for the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.

Rachel Zoll, who covered the 2003 Episcopal General Convention, notes that “volcanic” is indeed a good way to describe the tumultuous meeting, which was why she was drawn to the word “erupted.”

Posted by Kristin Gazlay, Managing Editor of National News, The Associated Press at 5:04 pm on December 18, 2006

Now I realize — as a wire-service columnist — the degree to which issues of word count often affect the contents of these kinds of stories. Honest, I do. Length is always an issue.

However, if you read the AP report you will note that there is no previous mention of an ongoing crisis in Anglicanism that predates 2003. I have no doubt that Zoll knows the warfare predates the Robinson consecration. However, there is no way the reader can know that by reading this report.

erupt“Erupt” is a good word and I understand Gazlay’s point. However, there is no evidence in the story that the volcano previously existed or that it has erupted in the past.

So what did the story need to say? All we needed was one tiny insertion of fact. Perhaps the clause “The ballots are part of a crisis over the Bible and sexuality” could have said, “The ballots are part of a three-decade crisis over the Bible and sexuality,” etc. That would have done the trick. Then the next sentence says, accurately, that there has been a new eruption. Amen.

If you want to see an accurate reference in a short wire-service report, click here to see the Religion News Service story on these events by Daniel Burke. Here is the key passage:

The Virginia congregations have thrust themselves to the front line of a conservative movement, in which U.S. parishes are aligning with theological allies in the wider Anglican Communion. While conservatives make up a minority of the 2.2 million-member Episcopal Church, a majority of the world’s 37 other Anglican provinces agree with their belief that the Bible trumps cultural accommodations on issues like homosexuality.

Tensions in the U.S. church, mounting since the decision to ordain women three decades ago, exploded after an openly gay man was elected bishop of New Hampshire in 2003.

Note that the tensions exploded, or perhaps it can be said that they “erupted.” But they have been building for “three decades.”

That’s the ticket.

P.S. It is also interesting that a key player in the RNS report is “the Rt. Rev. Martyn Minns, rector of Truro Church.” This is an accurate reference under Associated Press style. He is a bishop, not a priest who is a “bishop.”

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The Jewish Valentine’s Day?

12daysochristmaslightsAll this week I have been serving long days on a jury.

Although I tried my best to get out of it, I found the entire experience absolutely riveting and educational. I cannot commend the work highly enough. Working with 11 very different people to come to unanimous agreement on a complicated case is difficult but very rewarding. In the end, we found the defendant guilty, which was a hard decision to make during this time of year.

While you’re serving you’re not allowed to surf the Internet, so my daily paper reading was greatly limited. One thing I did get to read was The Examiner, a free newspaper distributed in my city. Each day it has been running through the “12 Days of Christmas,” counting down to Dec. 25, with a picture of local readers acting out each verse of the song.

I know that many journalist types aren’t religious, but certainly someone at that paper knows that the 12 Days of Christmas run from Dec. 25 to January 6, right?

Those churches that keep the liturgical calendar, of which I am a member, are in the season of Advent right now (or Nativity Lent in the Eastern churches). It’s kind of the opposite of the American Christmas season. While other people are busy partying it up, we’re supposed to be in prayer and repentance. And then when everyone else is in post-Christmas mode, we’re celebrating a 12-day season.

I commend The Examiner for trying to do something to engage readers, but it’s kind of funny or sad how much newspapers miss the religious aspect of this time of year. One reader sent along this very funny chart in The Washington Post making fun of how vapid made-for-TV Christmas movies are. But a lot of mainstream media reports fit in that same genre with heartwarming stories that indicate the meaning of Christmas is anything but religious.

One area I would like to see reporters cover is what this time of year is like for Americans who are not Christian. The Boston Globe‘s Christopher Muther had a very funny entry in that category with his story about how young Jewish singles party on Christmas Eve:

Christmas Eve is perhaps the most important night of the year for the city’s Jewish singles. While Boston’s gentiles are tucked away with their eggnog, plastic Santas, and enough sugar cookies to feed the population of Luxembourg, something massive has happened in the clubs. Christmas Eve has evolved into Jewish Valentine’s Day.

Muther talks about the Matzo Ball, which is a popular Boston party held on Christmas Eve. It’s facing competition this year from Let My People Go, a New York-based group. He spends quite a few paragraphs talking about all the heavy imbibing at these parties.

Mayshe Schwartz, a Brookline-based Orthodox rabbi who wears a baseball cap embroidered with Hebrew symbol chai (which means living) and answers to the nickname Schwartzy, thinks the advent of Christmas Eve as Jewish Valentine’s Day has more to do with loneliness than the consumption of large quantities of booze.

“At some point, many Jews feel isolated at Christmas,” he says. “There’s a whole country celebrating something, and you can only run with it so far, then at some point, you can’t. You don’t have a Christmas tree, stores are closed, everything you’re watching is ‘Miracle on 34th Street.’ It was only logical that these giant singles parties would evolve from this.”

The story was rather fluffy but the actual topic — singles parties on Christmas Eve — doesn’t really lend itself to much substance. It would be nice to see more in-depth stories about what it’s really like to be a member of a minority religion.

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Hey, Washington Post, does experience matter?

WashPostCoverIt’s the question that all religion-beat specialists hear all the time, whether they want to or not.

“Hey, where do you go to church?” This is, of course, simply another way of stating the worldview question: “Hey, reporter, what in the world do you believe?” As I have discussed here in the past, there are many Godbeat professionals who simply refuse to answer, saying it is nobody’s business. This causes tension, more often than not.

A few journallists open up and pretty much spill the works. This often creates a whole different set of tensions. Want to make a conservative Episcopalian grimace? Tell her that you are a liberal Episcopalian. Or turn that around, because it really doesn’t matter. Ditto for Baptists, Jews, United Methodists, Catholics, you name it.

But whatever a religion writer says in this situation is going to tick off somebody. As I wrote early in the life of this blog:

The religion beat takes a journalist into territory that is both highly personal and very, very complicated in terms of history, doctrine, facts, titles, lingo, statistics and who knows what all. I like to tell people that it’s like covering politics and opera at the same time.

When I joined the Rocky Mountain News staff, I discussed this problem with my editor. He approved the following answer, which some journalist friends of mine jokingly called “Mattingly’s Miranda.” It goes like this: “Yes, I am an active churchman. I take my own faith very seriously and, because of that, I want to do the best job that I can to understand your faith and get the facts right.”

In the classroom, I often put it this way: Report unto others as you would want them to report unto you.

When speaking to clergy groups and at seminaries, I often appeal to holy types to stop asking this question.

Why? Because it’s the wrong question. I have known some very religious people who could not report worth a flip and I have known agnostics and one or two atheists who took the religion beat very seriously and did fine, balanced, nuanced work. For them, it was like sociology with colorful voices and rites. Hey, whatever works.

The key, however, is that they have to care about the facts, history and symbolism of the beat. They have to sweat the details. In my opinion, this comes with experience and professional training, whether in the classroom or out of it.

Thus, I urge clergy to ask reporters this question: “How long have you covered the religion beat? Where did you study?” You would think this would be a rather neutral question, but apparently not.

TumsLong, long ago, back in 1994, The Washington Post raised many eyebrows by posting a newsroom notice for a religion reporter. The “ideal candidate,” it said, is “not necessarily religious nor an expert in religion.” Well, I still think this is bizarre. Try to imagine a notice in an elite newsroom seeking an opera critic that says the “ideal candidate does not necessarily like opera or know much about opera.” How about notices for reporters who cover professional sports, science, film and politics?

No one has taken more shots on this issue than the veteran religion-beat writer Julia Duin at The Washington Times, who once caused a mini-storm at Poynter.org — check out the counter arguments — arguing that newspapers seeking improved religion coverage should hire qualified, experienced, award-winning religion reporters to help bridge the information gap that skews so many stories on this beat. I joined in during these arguments, too.

Now Duin has shipped me another note from the front lines of cyberspace, taken from a MediaBistro board on job changes here inside the Beltway. This latest Washington Post news caused her to reach for the Tums, and you can probably see why:

Metro is happy to announce that Jacqui Salmon, who has been covering philanthropy, will change assignments to become a second regional religion reporter together with Michelle Boorstein. We are making this change to restore a second Metro religion reporter, lost when Caryle Murphy took early retirement. The move reflects the importance of religion to our readers and to contemporary social, cultural and political life. Jacqui remains based in Fairfax, but will report now to the District desk’s Joe Davidson, who oversees religion coverage, including the Saturday Religion Page.

In nearly two decades at The Post, Jacqui has established herself as an enterprising reporter who thinks broadly and breaks news. She has reported and edited on the Business staff, and covered suburban family life on Metro before taking over the philanthropy beat.

Now, try to imagine the eye-popping resumes the Post would have received if it had advertised this job via contacts at the Religion Newswriters Association, Poynter.org or some similar network. Hey, maybe the Post did that and nobody good applied (but I would not count on that).

Would any qualified people apply if the Post advertised a Supreme Court slot? You think? There would have been a very high-quality stampede.

Clearly, Salmon is a skilled, veteran reporter who is trusted by editors at the Post. That is not my point.

Nevertheless, I have to confess that I hope that — in the weeks ahead — lots of people ask her: “How long have you covered the religion beat? Where did you study?” I think this is fair, given the complex and controversial nature of this topic and its importance in local, religion, national and global news today.

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Eat off your bellies!

Writing about atheism here at GetReligion would seem somewhat oxymoronic since we are well, a blog about the media’s coverage of religion. But even atheists have a degree of faith since it takes faith to believe that there is in fact no God out there.

Generally, coverage of the growth of an evangelistic, media-friendly atheism has been fairly solid. First there was The Washington Post‘s review of Sam Harris’ new book Letter to a Christian Nation, and then there was Time‘s wonderful cover piece involving a debate between the atheist Richard Dawkins and Christian Francis Collins.

Now comes National Public Radio’s On the Media with a clever report on atheists’ attempts to change people’s perspective on religion. Here is Ellen Johnson, president of American Atheists, being interviewed by Brooke Gladstone:

ELLEN JOHNSON: Until the atheists start voting their atheism and be identified as a voting [bloc] in America, the politicians aren’t going to listen to us. We’re not going to have any influence in the public schools. We’re not going to have any influence in the media or anywhere else.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: But even she concedes that organizing atheists is like herding cats. Sam Harris says the only way to win is to keep up the pressure until religious tolerance is no longer tolerated.

SAM HARRIS: I think the criticism of irrationality just has to come from a hundred sides all at once. In the entertainment community, maybe it will just have people making jokes that are funny enough[,] and true enough, so as to put religious certainty in a bad light.

Should we tolerate the intolerant? It’s a tricky subject for journalists covering atheists. It reminds me of the debates over global warming and evolution vs. intelligent design. How do you cover a minority voice that demands to be heard despite the overwhelming sentiment against that voice? Of course, people on one side can scream that they have all reason and knowledge on their side and eventually journalists will come to see their perspective, right?

Harris is on that mission to change the way people perceive religion. As brilliantly portrayed in South Park (reviewed here by our friends at The Revealer), he soldiers on in the beliefs that maybe someday people will come to accept the faith of the atheist:

SAM HARRIS: One day, someone in the White House press corps will hear the President of the United States express some certainty about being in dialogue with the creator of the universe, and he or she will ask a question, which should be on everybody’s mind: you know, how is this any different from thinking you’re in dialogue with Zeus?

BROOKE GLADSTONE: That day is far off. But Harris has a great deal of faith in his fellow man.

SAM HARRIS: I’m hopeful that journalists and people in the entertainment industry are waiting for the permission to express their doubts. And I think that permission is coming. I mean I’m trying to do what I can to engineer it in my hardheaded and boorish way. And I feel, just from the contacts I have in both industries, that there’s a profound sense of relief that comes with hearing somebody call a spade a spade.

On the Media‘s broadcast is brilliant and I highly recommend you listen to it, if not read the transcript. One of my favorite sections is the analysis of the phrase that journalists overuse: “There are no atheists in foxholes.” Everyone from Katie Couric to Bob Schieffer uses it, but NPR’s John Burnett confesses that he will think twice before using the word because the everyday atheist would not appreciate it.

As a parting note, how different do you think a journalist who happens to be an atheist would cover something like an atheist convention compared to a journalist who happens to be a Muslim, or a Christian? It’s just a thought to consider. There is that age-old question of whether journalists should reveal their theological affiliation, but let’s save that discussion for another day. Just tell us what you think about how the coverage would be different.

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Oh, those Christmas cover stories

newsweek coverWhat is it about Christmas these days that brings the fightin’ out in journalists?

First there are the way over-hyped Christmas Wars stories. Then there were the recent magazine covers that obstinately forced our Christmas focus back to the culture wars.

I understand that news magazines feel compelled to do Christmas covers because they sell well. Hooking the article to relevant issues gives readers something to talk about at the Christmas party. But one-sided articles that attempt to establish historical and theological theories or movements as fact or trends should not pass for quality journalism belonging on the cover of a national news magazine.

The less offensive culprit is Newsweek, which wrote a half-intelligent article dated Dec. 18 about how “Jewish family values” from the time of Jesus’ birth have helped shape the morals that still affect us today. The article starts out as a very compelling narrative but sadly devolves into a thinly researched treatise that somehow passes for news reporting.

But to its credit, Newsweek does not try to draw any grand conclusion and instead concludes with one of those vague cop-out statements that tells the reader nothing:

No matter what one thinks of Jesus of Nazareth — that he was the Son of God, an interesting prophetic figure or a religious provocateur with particularly prolific followers — surely we can agree that he was no ordinary man.

Yes, can we please at least agree on that? If you don’t, well, then you must be the Grinch.

us news coverU.S. News & World Report seems to also agree that Jesus was something else. In its attempt to interpret the culture wars, the magazine’s cover piece from Dec. 18 stretches credulity in asserting that “new research” supposedly suggests what has been talked about for 2,000 years. Exactly how is that news?

“In Search of the Real Jesus: New research questions whether he was more teacher than savior” discusses how Gnosticism is the background battle for today’s culture wars over sex, biblical interpretation and the divinity of Jesus Christ.

I give the magazine’s editors credit for portraying the issue as a long-running debate within Christianity, but their attempts to hype new documents and research are immediately dampened when they include those theologians who believe that the Gnostic gospels have the theological value of damp rags. Yes, Gnosticism is a story, but don’t portray it as the next big thing, at least not yet.

Early on in the article, reporter Jay Tolson does not hide his belief that non-Gnostics are “close-minded” and that early church opponents of the Gnostics were “heresy hunters.” I cringed when Tolson quoted Princeton’s Elaine Pagels saying that Christianity would have been “a more appealingly rational, tolerant, and expansive creed had the orthodox not suppressed it.”

The first third of the article is spent building the case for Gnosticism, followed by a well-presented rebuttal from Anglican bishop and author N.T. Wright. But my hopes for balance in the article were crushed by this paragraph near the end:

If the Gnostic perspective is not really that new, and if its seminal ideas are already planted in the heart of modern western, and particularly American, culture, why are the defenders of orthodoxy so troubled by the arguments of modern Gnostic enthusiasts? Perhaps it is a matter of self-defense on the part of those who see delicate historical and theological truths on the verge of demolition. From the second to the 20th century, Johnson writes in the Roman Catholic journal Commonweal, the “tripod of creed, canon, and apostolic succession not only shaped Christian orthodoxy but provided the strategy for Christian self-definition. … Today, I would argue, a ‘new Gnosticism’ not only threatens the shape of Christian faith, but does so by questioning the reliability and authenticity of this traditional frame of self-understanding.”

The article has a few other inconsistencies and illogical statements — such as a claim that Gnostics’ understanding of Jesus made priests and churches irrelevant to salvation, as if Jesus were not already the center — but the article is appropriately in-depth. It just failed to cover both sides fairly.

Also, how do you write about the Gnostic gospels without mentioning that they were written centuries after the books included in the New Testament? And why is that relevant from a historian’s perspective? There is a mention of how the official canon was established by Archbishop Athanasius in 367, but that’s it. Where have we seen this mistake made before by journalists? Oh yeah, here, with the hype around “The Gospel of Judas.”

From a research and writing perspective, neither article is bad. The opinions and views put forth are all legitimate. But this is not journalism. This is advocacy essay-writing with a vague attempt to philosophize about religion and current events.

So what should these magazines be doing instead? Perhaps take the same subjects, tone down the headlines and take a more sober look at the subjects. These are good topics to write about. The Newsweek piece is somewhat random, but I am actually very glad that a national news magazine is writing about Gnosticism. I just wish it would use journalism to do so.

Also, I want to second tmatt’s post and call for a more thorough look at the decline of religiously themed holiday cards. That won’t make for enough material for a cover article, but enough consumer data exist to develop a decent holiday trend story.

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You take the good, you take the bad

factsoflifeSometimes I think the best thing a reporter can do to improve his craft is be interviewed by another reporter for publication.

I have been interviewed as a subject matter source by a few different reporters and have experienced a wide range of results. There is nothing more frustrating than being misquoted or misunderstood by a reporter. If it happens to you, you’re much more careful with your sources. You take the time to make sure you understand where they’re coming from and what they’re trying to say.

Many of my sources tell me horror stories about being mishandled by reporters. Just this week I was talking to a friend of mine, a former reporter who goes to The Falls Church, one of the churches that just split from The Episcopal Church. I asked her what she thought of the media coverage of the story and she said, “Well, what do you expect? Of course they get the story wrong.” Without getting into the merits of the coverage, she said her frustration is that the story is being portrayed as about homosexuality when she considers the story to be about being in a church that confesses the Gospel correctly.

Last week we looked at a couple of Neela Banerjee’s stories. One dealt with people who identify both as homosexuals and evangelical Christians. The other looked at the response of various congregations to homosexuals. I enjoyed both stories, although I offered a few points of criticism.

Source Robert Gagnon wrote about his experience being interviewed by Banerjee. He felt that she misconstrued some of what he said. Here is how she characterized his views:

But for most evangelicals, gay men and lesbians cannot truly be considered Christian, let alone evangelical.

“If by gay evangelical is meant someone who claims both to abide by the authority of Scripture and to engage in a self-affirming manner in homosexual unions, then the concept gay evangelical is a contradiction,” Robert A. J. Gagnon, associate professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, said in an e-mail message.

“Scripture clearly, pervasively, strongly, absolutely and counterculturally opposes all homosexual practice,” Dr. Gagnon said. “I trust that gay evangelicals would argue otherwise, but Christian proponents of homosexual practice have not made their case from Scripture.”

In fact, both sides look to Scripture. The debate is largely over seven passages in the Bible about same-sex couplings. Mr. Gagnon and other traditionalists say those passages unequivocally condemn same-sex couplings.

Gagnon reprinted his four paragraph response to Banerjee’s question of whether there are gay evangelicals. The most notable criticism he had was that he answered her question both in the affirmative and the negative. However, she only quoted from his “no” response.

His other criticisms were that she made it look like he didn’t know that Christian proponents of homosexual practice had attempted to substantiate their views using Scripture; that she misstated his views about whether gay men and women can be considered Christian; and that she neglected to include his emphasis on the importance of love. You can read his whole case here.

One thing I appreciated about his critique is that he also took the time to praise Banerjee for her good work in the article, as he did here:

On Ms. Banerjee’s behalf I can say that I’ve seen far worse reporting on this issue. At least Ms. Banerjee solicited my comments, was polite, and actually used most of three of my sentences. Moreover, she ended her article on the helpful note that relatives of one “gay Christian” in a homosexual relationship tell him, “We love you, but we’re concerned.” These features of her article and reporting should be applauded even as we continue to seek improved reporting on the subject of Christianity and homosexuality from the Times and other major media publications.

This business of reporting on complex religious stories is a long ball game. With each story, reporters try to include the right perspectives, accurately portray contentious and complex views and put it all in a nice package on a tight deadline. If sources or interested parties think mistakes were made, they would do well to follow Gagnon’s example of offering criticism while putting the best construction on perceived mistakes.

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